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WHO raises concern over underweight babies

THE World Health Organisation has raised concern over the growing number of underweight newborn babies with calls for Governments to invest more in maternal and neo-natal health.

According to the organisation, in sub-Saharan Africa underweight births have increased from 4.4 million to five million, mainly due to factors like migration and fertility rate.

One in seven children are born weighing less than the prescribed global standard of 2.5 kilograms and estimates show that 20 million children are underweight worldwide.

A local gynaecologist Dr Solwayo Ngwenya said Zimbabwe also has a significant rate of babies who are born underweight due to hypertension.

“The concerns by the WHO are quite valid as we are still struggling with the issue of underweight in newborn babies. This is further worsened by the fact that we do not have specialists and intensive neo natal care machines needed to help such babies to survive,” said Dr Ngwenya.

“Some pregnant women are hypertensive and hence their babies cannot be nourished well during their development and some deliver prematurely if the hypertension poses life threatening complications to the mother.”

He said underweight babies also had a risk of developing brain problems if they are not monitored properly.

“We also encourage our women to register their pregnancies early so that they are monitored and helped if any complication arises during the pregnancy,” added Dr Ngwenya.

The Ministry of Health and Child Care recently said many children aged below five are affected by global acute malnutrition and the national prevalence stands at 2.7 percent.

Binga is the worst affected district with 4, 4 percent and the ministry said the district also faces chronic food insecurity requiring urgent action.

“About 169 097 children aged between six and 59 months are affected by global acute malnutrition. We have 27 districts in Zimbabwe whose global acute malnutrition prevalence is above the national average of 2.6 percent. Of the affected districts the top five include Binga, Kariba, Mangwe, Shamva and Mount Darwin,” read the statement from the Ministry.

Experts say that multiple pregnancies, hypertension infections and premature deliveries are the leading causes of underweight in newborn babies.

“More than 20 million babies were born with low birth weight, less than 2500g around one in seven of all births worldwide, according to the first-ever estimates documenting this major health challenge. More than 80 percent of the world’s 2.5 million newborns who die every year are low birth weight,” said WHO in a statement.

“Those low birth weight babies who survive have a greater risk of stunting, and developmental and physical ill health later in life, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Close to three-quarters were born in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia and the problem remains substantial in high-income countries in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.”

In 2012, around 195 countries including Zimbabwe, concerned over the high prevalence of underweight babies, committed to reducing such births by 30 percent by 2025.



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